Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin’s Carnegie Libraries

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Thursday, July 21, 2016
in WLA 125
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Andrew Carnegie was often referred to as the “Patron Saint of Libraries”.  He donated $56,162,622 for the construction of 2509 library buildings throughout the English-speaking parts of the world.  He donated $40,000,000 for the construction of 1679 public library buildings in the United States.  Sixty Wisconsin communities were the recipients of 63 public library grants from Andrew Carnegie.  In addition, two academic institutions also received Carnegie library grants.  Fifteen of these Carnegie buildings have been razed, thirty have been repurposed or are no longer used as libraries, but 20 are still being used as public libraries.  Most of the Carnegie buildings that continue to be used as libraries have received various expansions and modifications. In some cases the expansion is larger than the original Carnegie building. Years in which Carnegie library grants were received (not including the 3 branch libraries) along with the number of libraries: 1901(7); 1902 (9); 1903 (12); 1904 (3); 1905 (8); 1907 (3); 1908 (1); 1911 (2); 1912 (2); 1913 (5); 1914 (3); 1915 (3).  Only six other states received more Carnegie grants than Wisconsin.  The first Carnegie building completed in Wisconsin was the Central Library of the Superior Public Library.  More information about Wisconsin’s Carnegie libraries can be found on Wikipedia.  Judy Aulik’s Library Postcards site has images of Wisconsin Carnegie libraries on postcards.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Andrew Carnegie's birth, the Carnegie Corporation distributed Carnegie's framed portrait to all Carnegie libraries in America in 1935 including those in Wisconsin. One of those portraits is shown above.
 
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Wisconsin’s First Public Library (WLA 125)

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on Friday, January 29, 2016
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The first public library established under Wisconsin’s 1872 public library law was the Black River Falls Public Library which was established in the fall of 1872.  This library met the three criteria for being defined as a public library under Wisconsin law: 1) it was established by a governmental unit (the Village of Black River Falls); 2) it was free to the users of the library; and it was supported by public taxation. The newly established public library was preceded by an association or membership library established in 1868 that was supported by fees that were paid by members. The Black River Falls Public Library was housed in a number of locations in its early years. In 1882 the library was moved to Mrs. P. H. Howell’s dress making and millinery shop when she became librarian. The photograph above shows the library at this location. Black River Falls was one of sixty Wisconsin communities that received a grant from Andrew Carnegie. It received its grant on March 11, 1914 for $10,000.  The Carnegie building which is now houses a historical museum is shown in the photograph below.  The library moved into a new building where it is now housed in 1995.
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Superior’s Carnegie Library Buildings

Posted by Larry Nix
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Superior Carnegie Library - Central
 
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Superior, WI was one of three communities in Wisconsin to receive grants from Andrew Carnegie for two library buildings. The other two communities were Madison and Racine. Both of Superior’s Carnegie buildings are at risk. The old central library was abandoned in 1991 when the public library moved to new quarters, and is currently for sale. The sale price is $125,000 and it would probably cost a few hundred thousand more to restore. There was a recent article about the status of the central library which included a number of interior pictures. The branch library in Superior was converted to a private residence (also in 1991) and is still occupied by the owner.  However, it is overgrown with vegetation and looks like it could use some TLC. There is more information about both of the Carnegie buildings on the Library History Buff website.

 

Library Postcards Revisited

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Friday, February 27, 2015
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Manitowoc Public Library
 
Ripon Public Library
 
Postcards depicting libraries are wonderful souvenirs and also serious historical artifacts. The “golden age” of postcard production and collecting was from 1898 to 1918. That period coincided with the construction of large numbers of library buildings as a result of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie and others. These new libraries were the pride of their communities and were the frequent subject of postcards. This was certainly the case in Wisconsin and there are hundreds of different postcards depicting Wisconsin libraries. Many of these have been featured on this website. Pictured above are two of the more unusual postcards featuring Wisconsin libraries. The first depicts the Manitowoc Public Library and is made of aluminum. The second depicts the Ripon Public Library and is made of leather. Both libraries were Carnegie libraries and both postcards were mailed during the first decade of the 20th century. It was during this period that a variety of novelty materials were used for postcards.  Images of Wisconsin library postcards can also be found on Judy Aulik's website "Library Postcards: Civic Pride in a Lost America" and the website of Sharon McQueen and Richard Douglass.

Reedsburg Public Library Carnegie Exhibit

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Wednesday, January 04, 2012
in Carnegie libraries

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reedsburg-carnegie-plans.jpgThe first exhibit of library memorabilia sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center this year is at the Reedsburg Public Library. It will remain there for the month of January. The exhibit focuses on the Wisconsin library legacy of Andrew Carnegie. This is very appropriate since Reedsburg's Carnegie library building is 100 years old this month. Although the public library now occupies a new building located across the street from the Carnegie building, the Carnegie is still used to house the library's archive collection. I was delighted to find that the library has preserved and framed the original plans for the Carnegie building which were approved by James Bertram of the Carnegie Corporation on March 11, 1911.

Carnegie Library Exhibit in Sheboygan

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Tuesday, November 02, 2010
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The "Andrew Carnegie's Wisconsin Library Legacy" exhibit will be on display at the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan for the month of November.  This special exhibit which was created to help celebrate the 175th anniversary of Carnegie's birth was previously on display at the Middleton Public Library. It's nice to have the exhibit in Sheboygan which had its own Carnegie building (only the facade survives), and during the month when Carnegie was born (November 25).


Marketing Library History in Sheboygan

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Saturday, May 01, 2010
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For me attending a conference of the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries (WAPL), a division of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) is like walking into a bar called Cheers. There are lots of longtime friends and "everybody knows your name".  These days my name is mostly associated with library history, and that was why I was in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday of this week. At a conference with the theme “Anchoring the Past, Setting Sail for the Future”, I was there to help anchor the past with a program which I called “Turning Your Library’s History into a Public Relations Asset”.  The conference was held at the Blue Harbor Resort, the anchor to a major harbor development, right on beautiful Lake Michigan. Dick Nelson, the conference program chair, had to twist my arm a little to get me to do the program. Not that I would actually pass up on an opportunity to promote library history, but when competing with five other programs in the same time slot I wasn't optimistic about the size of the audience I would be talking to. With past programs about library history I have sometimes ended up talking to a very small choir of like minded individuals.  In this instance, that turned out not to be the case. The size of my audience was a respectable percentage of the 300 plus conference attendees.


In any case to hedge my bets and to ensure that the preparation for my presentation was not wasted, I had taken this opportunity to enhance the website of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center (WLHC) by creating three new web pages. One of my responsibilities as Chair of the Steering Committee for the WLHC is maintaining the website. This also enabled me to avoid using technology onsite in my presentation (something I hate), and enabled the audience to avoid taking copious notes on my words of wisdom. This approach also allows those of you reading this post to benefit from the presentation without being there. Since a library has to have researched and compiled some form of a library history in order to turn it into a public relations asset, the first web page supporting my presentation deals with Researching and Writing a Library History. I want to acknowledge ALA's Library History Round Table, Bernadette Lear, and other members of the WLHC Steering Committee for much of the content on this web page.  The second web page is about the core message of the program "Marketing Library History", and the final web page is focused on "Celebrating Anniversaries".


Attending the WAPL Conference was a great opportunity to talk to old and new friends. The reception on Thursday night at the Mead Public Library was a wonderful event. The library's outstanding facility includes many interesting spaces and artifacts. Among them is a portrait of Andrew Carnegie from their old Carnegie facility (shown on the postcard above). I'm hoping to take advantage of some of their display cases for an exhibit later in the year. While in Sheboygan I also picked up a vintage public library book box which WAPL Conference Chair David Weinhold had assisted me in obtaining via Craigslist. On the way home I swung up to Menasha to pick up a library history exhibit featuring the Tabard Inn Library, the Booklovers Library, and Wisconsin Library Memorabilia. All in all a great couple of days for a library history buff.


Eau Claire's Early Public Library Buildings

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Sunday, April 25, 2010
in Carnegie libraries

 



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The public library in Eau Claire (now named the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library) has benefited from the generosity of several benefactors over the years. An online history of the early years of the public library can be found HERE. In 1894 the library was given rent free space in the new Ingram Building by lumberman Orin H. Ingram. The Ingram Building is shown in the first postcard above. In 1902 a grant of $40,000 was obtained from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building and the grand opening of the building was held on April 21, 1904, just over 106 years ago. A copy of the letter requesting the grant from Andrew Carnegie is located HERE. The second postcard shows the exterior of the Carnegie building and the third postcard shows the interior.


Celebrating Carnegie's 175th

Posted by Larry Nix
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stamp-us-baraboo-72b.jpgNovember 25, 2010 will be the 175th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Carnegie. This is a great year to celebrate Carnegie's legacy to the sixty Wisconsin communities and two academic institutions that benefited from library building grants from Carnegie. If a Carnegie building is part of your library's heritage, why not highlight that legacy during this year.  How about a Carnegie birthday during the week of November 25 (Thanksgiving Day) or on some other date that is significant to your library's Carnegie experience.  Take advantage of National Library Week to highlight Carnegie's legacy. Find out about the story of how your community got its Carnegie grant and the subsequent history of the building and try to get an article about the building in your local media. Locate artifacts and photographs that can be used to help tell your Carnegie story. This can be done even if the Carnegie building in your community has been razed. Put your Carnegie story on your blog and/or website. Create an exhibit in the library using artifacts, archives, and photographs. See if you can find souvenir items such as postcards and china items for your exhibit. Postcards are relatively easy to come by on eBay. You may also be able to purchase images of your Carnegie building from the Wisconsin Historical Society. Arrange with your local post office to have a special postmark created to mark your special occasion related to Carnegie. You can even create a postage stamp depicting your Carnegie building (the Baraboo Carnegie building is depicted above). Of course, even if you don't have a Carnegie building you can celebrate your library's heritage around its prior buildings or prior librarians. The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center has an exhibit of Wisconsin library memorabilia that may be available to assist you in your celebration. Contact Larry Nix at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to explore this possibility. More on Wisconsin's Carnegie library buildings can be found HERE.

Plymouth's Carnegie

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Wednesday, October 28, 2009
in Carnegie libraries

 



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plymouth-portrait-72.jpgTwo communities in Sheboygan County received grants from Andrew Carnegie for public library buildings. Unlike the City of Sheboygan, the City of Plymouth chose to preserve and incorporate its Carnegie building into a new expanded
Plymouth Public Library. The Carnegie building is preserved in its entirety with a major 1988 addition at the rear of the building. The City of Plymouth received its $10,000 Carnegie grant in 1908, but the building was not completed until 1915. The addition was added to the building in 1988. The main entrance to the expanded building is located at 130 Division Street but the Carnegie building faces E. North Main Street. The Wisconsin Historical Society has determined that the building is eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. There is a Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory (AHI) record for the building. Search under Sheboygan County for Plymouth Public Library. The building is listed on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Trail.


Razed Carnegies

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Wednesday, October 21, 2009
in Carnegie libraries

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Of the 63 public library buildings and two academic library buildings built with assistance from Andrew Carnegie in Wisconsin, fourteen have been razed. The buildings were located in the following communities: Appleton (Lawrence University), Beloit, Chippewa Falls, Fond du Lac, Madison (Central Library), Manitowoc, Neenah, Rice Lake, Richland Center, Sheboygan, South Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Wausau, and Wauwatosa. When the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan razed the Carnegie  building for a garden, it kept part of the building's facade which is shown to the left. When Chippewa Falls razed its Carnegie building, it preserved the columns that were in front of the building. These columns now adorn the front of a furniture store. The Carnegie building in Superior has stood vacant for many years and is at risk.


Library Memorabilia Exhibit in Door County

Posted by Larry Nix
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The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit will be on display at the Door County Library in Sturgeon Bay for September and most of October. Displaying the exhibit in libraries around the state is a project of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. The exhibit is curated by Larry Nix, Chair of the WLHC Steering Committee. The display cases at the Sturgeon Bay library are conveniently located immediately adjacent to the entrance and right in front of the computer lab. Sturgeon Bay is one of  sixty communities in Wisconsin that received a grant from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building. The Carnegie building in Sturgeon Bay, which is one block north of the current library, is shown below.  The building which is covered with ivy serves as the office building for an accounting firm. For more information about the exhibit click here.



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Carnegie Library Bed & Breakfasts

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Tuesday, August 04, 2009
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ladysmith4b-72.jpgI previously wrote a post on Carnegie library buildings that have been converted to bed and breakfasts. The Library Hall Bed and Breakfast in Ladysmith, Wisconsin is one of only two such arrangements that I am aware of in the United States. The other is in Sterling, Colorado. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ladysmith and see the Library Hall Bed and Breakfast and have included some photos above.
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  • Marva Deines says #
    Jennifer is my sister and I really enjoyed your presentation! I did not realize there was another Carnegie Library B&B....
  • Larry Nix says #
    I'm glad you found my blog entry about the Carnegie B & B. My wife and I hope to stay there one of these days on our way to see my...

Historic Library Buildings That House Museums

Posted by Larry Nix
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Any library building that is older than fifty years is considered to be historic. Some historic library buildings continue to serve as libraries usually with additions.  Others are razed so the lot they stand on can be used for a new library or for another use. Still others survive as buildings but are used for other purposes.  One of the more positive alternative purposes for these buildings is to serve as a local history museum. Historical societies realize the importance of preserving historic buildings and they make them accessible to the public. There are several of these in Wisconsin. The Carnegie library building in Darlington which is pictured on the envelope above now serves as the home of the Lafayette County Historical Society Museum. The Antigo Carnegie library building shown on the postcard below serves as the home to the Langlade Historical Society. Other historic library buildings  occupied by museums that I am aware of include those in Beaver DamRacine, WaupacaWaupun, and Wisconsin Rapids. A down side to these buildings is that they are often not fully accessible to those with disabilities.



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  • Andy Barnett says #
    South Wood County Historical Museum is the former TB Scott Library. http://www.swch-museum.com/ (with museum photo) http://www.mcm...

On This Day 1903

Posted by Larry Nix
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pc-wi-janesville-72.jpgAccording to the Wisconsin Historical Society, on this day in 1903 construction began on the Janesville Public Library.  Andrew Carnegie had approved a grant of $30,000 on March 1, 1901 to assist with the contruction of the library. It was one of seven communities in Wisconsin to receive Carnegie grants in that same year. In addition to the grant from Carnegie, F. S. Eldred donated $10,000 for the Janesville library's children's room. The Carnegie library building in Janesville is still in existence and has has been converted to a senior center.


 

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Neenah's Carnegie

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Volume I of the History of Winnegago County Wisconsin by Publius V. Lawson (C. F. Cooper & Co., Chicago, 1908, page 474) recounts the story of how Neenah, Wisconsin got its Carnegie Library.


"Robert Shiells [former president of Neenah's subscription library] still kept up his interest in the work [of the library] and one day in 1904 wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie suggesting that he furnish the funds for a library building in Neenah.  The reply was that a town with so much wealth could well build their own building.  Mr. Shiells replied, they were building public improvements, schools and churches, and therefore could with good grace call on Mr. Carnegie to furnish the library. But he still refused. There lives in Washington Mr. William R. Smith, the landscape gardener at the White House for the last fifty-five years.  He is a great student of Robert Burns, and of course a Scotchman.  He had gathered together a duplicate of the library used by Burns, many of them the very books used by Burns, and as near as possible the same editions.  Mr. Andrew Carnegie is a great friend of Mr. Smith, and spends many days each year at his home in Washington.  During this correspondence he was at the home of Mr. Smith, and asked him if he knew of a Scotchman out at Neenah, Wisconsin, named Robert Shiells.  He said he did not know him personally, but was well acquainted with him by his writing, and thought a great deal of him, and if  he ever went west he promised himself to call on Mr. Shiells.  Then Mr. Carnegie told of the correspondence.  Mr. Smith said, 'Why, Andy, you made a mistake; give Mr. Shiells his library.'  Then Mr. Carnegie replied, 'All right, Smith, I will do it.'  One day soon after, a little to his surprise, the letter came to Mr. Shiells offering the city $10,000, provided they would support it with $1,000 per annum.  The offer was accepted.  The citizens raised $15,000 in addition, of which Theda Clark gave $5,000 and the site where it is at present located.  It cost nearly $30,000."


The Carnegie building was razed to make way for the current Neenah Public Library building. The Friends of the Neenah Library are a Founding Contributor of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center for which we are grateful.  


T. B. Scott Free Library

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T. B. Scott, for whom the T. B. Scott Free Library in Merrill is named, willed the City of Merrill $10,000 in 1886 to found a free public library.  In a special election in 1889, 120 years ago, residents voted to establish the public library. In 1909, 100 years ago, Merrill received a grant of $17,500 from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building. The building which was designed by the architectural firm of Claude & Starck opened in 1911. An extensive expansion and rennovation of the building was completed in 2001. The library has a detailed outline of its history on its website, something we recommend for every library. If you look at the history, you will note that the library has benefited from the leadership of some outstanding Wisconsin librarians. We especially like the fact that a link to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website has been placed on their library history page. We are also grateful that the T. B. Scott Free Library is a Founding Contributor to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.


South Milwaukee Exhibit

Posted by Larry Nix
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The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit is on display in the months of February and March at the South Milwaukee Public Library as part of their 110th anniversary celebration. South Milwaukee received a $15,000 grant on September 29, 1915 from Andrew Carnegie for a new public library building. That building was razed in 1965. It was one of 63 public library buildings in Wisconsin that were built with assistance from Carnegie.


A Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) view of the razed South Milwaukee Public Library Carnegie Building.


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In Bed With Carnegie

Posted by Larry Nix
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Finding alternative uses for Carnegie library buildings that have been vacated for newer and more functional facilities can be a challenge. The old Carnegie library in Ladysmith, Wisconsin was transformed into a very unusual alternative purpose. It is now the Carnegie Hall Bed & Breakfast. In a Google search, I was only able to find a couple of similar uses in the nation. The Carnegie library building in Sterling, Colorado is now the Old Library Inn. The Carnegie library building in Olean, New york is now the Old Library Restaurant in conjunctin with a bed and breakfast. Why not spend a night with Carnegie on your next vacation.


The public library in Ladysmith is now named the Rusk County Community Library. The library has done a good job of outlining its library history.


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  • Marion Howard says #
    The Carnegie building in Darlington is now the home of the LaFayette County Historical Society Museum and Archives. Marion Howard,...

Carnegie Libraries in Superior and Hayward

Posted by Larry Nix
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The postcard on the masthead for the WLHC website shows the building which Andrew Carnegie helped fund for Superior, Wisconsin. Beth Carpenter, the designer of the WLHC website, picked the postcard for the masthead, but I heartedly approve. I like it because it shows people around the library and a very neat vintage automobile that helps date the card. Unfortunately, the building is at risk. When the City of Superior was set to raze the building, a group of individuals banded together and were able to save the building at least temporarily. But to date they have been unable to find a permanent use for the building.  For more on the Superior Carnegie building click here.


 



carnegie-wi-hayward-1-72.jpgThe situation in Hayward, WI differs dramatically from the one in Superior. When the Hayward Public Library moved to a new building, the old Carnegie building was bought by a retailer that has done a fine job of restoring and preserving the building. A contributing factor to this more favorable outcome was the ideal location of the Carnegie building in a popular commercial district for tourists.  If you're in the Hayward area check it out. 


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